CLEMSON — LSU’s Joe Burrow is the second-best quarterback Clemson has faced during its glittery five-year College Football Playoff run.
He’s not as talented as Lamar Jackson. But No. 1 LSU in the national championship game Monday in New Orleans will have a much better supporting cast than Jackson had as Clemson beat Louisville (42-26) in 2016.
Tua Tagovailoa might make a better pro. But Burrow is healthier than the former Alabama quarterback was last year as Clemson rolled to a 44-16 win and a second national title in three seasons.
He’s more experienced than Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was while losing to Clemson (37-17) as a sophomore in the 2015 Orange Bowl.
Or Ohio State’s Justin Fields was during the Buckeyes' 29-23 Fiesta Bowl loss on Dec. 28.
Which means this 5,208-yard passer and Heisman Trophy winner easily is the toughest test for present Clemson defensive backs.
And that no position unit is under as much pressure going into a Superdome showdown.
Joe Burrow vs. the Clemson volcano cuts both ways.
Clemson eruptions are hard on quarterbacks.
So does Fields.
But, as Clemson safety Tanner Muse pointed out Monday, Burrow’s quick delivery combined with LSU’s five-receiver sets often make defenders “look like clowns trying to cover everyone.”
The best secondary Clemson has fielded under head coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t have to win every Burrow battle, it just has to win enough to give the Clemson offense enough opportunities to prevail.
Evidence says it can work. It just might require all the depth, oxygen and late-game heroics an elite team can muster.
Uiagalelei vs. Greenbeans
A critical turnover is required, early or late and preferably both.
Cornerback A.J. Terrell returned a Tagovailoa interception 44 yards for the first score of the Tigers’ national title victory last January.
Ohio State’s Fields came into the Fiesta Bowl with 40 touchdown passes and one interception. He threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions against Clemson, the last one Nolan Turner’s game-saver in the end zone.
Muse’s favorite part of that biggest takeaway of the Clemson season was All-America linebacker Isaiah Simmons celebrating and then falling to the ground.
“He was just dog-tired,” Muse said.
LSU spent the fall wearing out the SEC.
Justin Jefferson has 102 catches. But Ja’Marr Chase has more receiving yards, 1,559 to 1,434.
They both have 18 touchdown catches.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 50 catches.
He’s a running back.
“A lot of people try throwing to running backs,” Muse said. “They do it well.”
Clemson’s secondary depth beyond cornerbacks Terrell and Derion Kendrick and safeties Muse and K’Von Wallace includes Turner at nickel back.
And question marks.
Snaps for reserve defensive backs against Ohio State: sophomore cornerback Mario Goodrich (12), senior safety Denzel Johnson (4), freshman safety Joseph Charleston (2).
Talk about extending the depth chart in an effort to counter Burrow …
D.J. Uiagalelei has arrived just in time to help Clemson get ready. The standout quarterback recruit is on campus as an early enrollee and, eligible to practice, is a candidate to run the scout team.
Muse thinks scout-team quarterback duties will be hard to pry away from spry veteran Jimmy Greenbeans.
That’s the alter ego of defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who thinks the best way to evaluate his defense is from a pocket perspective.
Clemson defensive backs and their LSU counterparts will hum a similar tune all week: going against a great passing offense in practice is the best way to prepare for facing another at the Superdome.
Both teams have good reason for fresh concern.
LSU knows the elastic Simmons is as good in pass coverage as he is at stopping the run.
“I don’t know how to classify myself,” Simmons said Monday. “Honestly, you could put me anywhere.”
That would be fun.
“Yeah,” Simmons said. “I’ve been trying to get a receiver play all year. The coaches don’t want me to get hurt.”
Venables knows LSU likely will make Muse and Turner cover good receivers. Ohio State went at Turner for a go-ahead touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Olave before Turner came up big on Fields’ final throw.
Muse said he doesn’t watch televised national championship game analysis.
“What are they saying?” he asked. “Are they coming after me?”
Maybe an ESPN expert or two has suggested as much, he was told.
“(LSU has) done a great job doing their thing against all the teams they’ve played,” Muse said. “We’re just going to do what we do and, hopefully, it will be good enough.”
Barely enough is plenty against Joe Burrow.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff